What Every Contact Lens Wearer Should Know About Amoebas


Certainly anyone who wears contact lenses has seen the terrifying headlines “Amoebas devour girl’s corneas…..” . This is a very effective way to grab your attention, but I think a more reasonable discussion about the Acanthamoeba is needed. Let’s investigate some of the facts about this case:

The young woman, Lian Kao, aged 23, was not a girl or child whose parents neglected to oversee her contact lens wear as some of the headlines might imply. She was an adult who unfortunately, exhibited gross negligence of her health. She was old enough to know better.

This case has made headlines because of its extreme results and the blatant disregard for best practices when it came to contact lens usage. She did not remove her lenses for 6 months, long past the one-month modality for this brand of contacts. The woman also slept and swam in a swimming pool in her lenses. And this is a fact that needs to be given special attention this time of year when other contact lens wearers may be tempted to take a quick dip with their lenses in. It is only acceptable to swim with your contact lenses in a chlorinated pool if you use daily wear lenses and throw them out immediately after swimming. Although pools are treated with chlorine, the Acanthamoeba can still live in pool water and hot tubs. It is also prevalent in some tap water and, of course, fresh water. NEVER swim in your lenses in fresh water such as ponds or rivers. This young woman washed her face with her lenses in place, splashing ordinary tap water into her eyes.

Optometrists always educate their patients about the proper use, care and cleaning of their lenses. We don’t encourage patients to change their lenses simply to make more money selling contact lenses. Just for the record, we are solely interested in educating our patients about the health of their eyes.

So many of the new contact lenses are so comfortable the wearer may forget they have them in. It is important to set up a regimen of removing your lenses, cleaning and disinfecting them with quality solution recommended for your type of lenses, and never swimming, showering or using tap water to “clean” your lenses. And last, but not least, have a good pair of back up glasses to give your corneas a break occasionally. Corneas need oxygen, and over-wear can lead to starving the corneas of oxygen and setting up a perfect breeding ground for infection.

The director of ophthalmology at Taipei’s Wan Fang Hospital, Wu Jian-Liang said, “Contact lens wearers are a high-risk group that can easily be exposed to eye diseases. A shortage of oxygen can destroy the surface of the epithelial tissue, creating tiny wounds into which the bacteria can easily infect, spreading to the rest of the eye and providing a perfect breeding ground. The girl should have thrown the contact lenses away after a month, but instead, she overused them and has now permanently damaged her corneas.”

Common sense is your best defense against infection. Remember, “When in doubt, take it out”. See your Optometrist regularly, and most certainly at the first sign of pain, discomfort or redness.


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